As we enter the long slog of February, to be followed by March, the sucker punch month, I thought people might want a little challenge to get themselves moving, breathing fresh air and looking up. So the next clear night around 6:30pm, bundle up, head outside and look East-Southeast.
You might notice the familiar pattern of the constellation Orion, with its three star belt, sword and action-movie posture. Its about a third to half way to the zenith (the spot over your head) from the horizon. In a city like Geneva, it should be just above the rooftops across the street (or across your back yard).
At Orion’s side is Canis Major, the dog, and the bright bright star Sirius.
To the left of Orion is the constellation Gemini, the twins, their heads the bright stars Castor and Pollux. You might get a little disoriented because right in the middle of Gemini is a bright “star” that outshines the dog star. This is Jupiter.
Jupiter is my favorite planet, a wonderful thing to observe even through a small telescope. Heck, even a pair of binoculars will reveal Jupiter’s four largest moons, starry pinpoints in a line across Jupiter. They orbit fast enough that if you go inside for some hot cocao or to check the score of that big game thing on Sunday, they will have shifted position noticably when you return.
I could create a blog just about Jupiter. It is a fascinating system. There’s a sulphurous, volcanic moon (Io) that is absolutely perfect for adandoning your once-Padawan turned Sith lord after you hack off his limbs. There is a water moon (Europa) where a thin veneer of ice might cover an ocean teaming with weird life. There is a giant storm in Jupiter’s atmosphere that is larger than Earth; it’s red for no known reason and sometimes it fades to a pale pink. Jupiter is more massive than all the other planets put together. Its mass may pull comets towards the inner solar system but that same time might help shield Earth by eating those same comets. Astronomers theorize that Jupiter actually moved much closer to the Sun in the early solar system, before being dragged out by the gravity of Saturn. Recent findings suggest that the asteroid belt currently between Jupiter and Mars is exactly as diverse (in size and makeup) that the theory, which has Jupiter mixing up the inner solar system and dragging material back out with it, would predict.
So anyway, Jupiter is aptly named. Go outside and check it out. It’s a big universe you were born in.
For more Jovian goodness, check out this post.